Reptiles are characterised by their dry, scaly skin that can retain water, allowing them to inhabit some of the driest places on earth. They usually mate on land and depending on the species, either lay eggs (i.e. grass snake and sand lizard) or give birth to live young (viviparous) that are a miniature version of the adult.
The UK has six terrestrial species of reptile, comprising of three lizard species: common lizard; sand lizard; and slow worm and three snake species: grass snake; adder and smooth snake.
Snakes – have no legs but slither on numerous ribs. Their jaws can be dislocated. They are unable to blink, eyes have fixed lens and instead of eyelids, snakes have a transparent scale protecting their eye, this is called the ‘ocular’ scale. They have a forked tongue, which is long and thin; flicked out regularly. They use their tongue to smell, which is used to sense movement, distance, prey and predators.
Lizards – the tail may be regrown if damaged and toes have sharp claws.
Reptiles and the law: Only the sand lizard and smooth snake are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (Section 9) and Regulations 89 of the Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 against killing, injuring, capture, damaging or destroying a breeding or resting site, intentionally obstructing access to a place used for shelter, keeping, transporting or selling. This means that not only are the animals themselves protected but so are their habitats. Common lizard, slow worm, adder and grass snake are all protected under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 against injuring, killing or selling.